Are Steroids Bad For You?

Jayashree Thakwani
Medically Reviewed by The Medindia Medical Review Team on Apr 26, 2018
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What are Steroids?

Steroids are chemicals produced in body to support functions like promoting growth and development or in reducing stress. Steroids can also refer to synthetic drugs that can help treat many health conditions.

When referring to steroids, people generally mean anabolic (short for anabolic-androgenic) steroids or corticosteroids. They are similar to certain hormones in our body and affect the body in both positive and negative ways. Anabolic steroids are used therapeutically in certain chronic muscle wasting conditions and when the post-operative recovery period is prolonged.

Abuse of Anabolic Steroids – These preparations are often abused by people like bodybuilders, athletes and fitness enthusiasts, as performance-enhancing drugs, to improve their sports performance or to improve the physical looks and be competitive.

Abuse of anabolic steroids may lead to physical side effects like stunted bone development and the person may never achieve complete physical growth. There is also the danger of possible psychological side effects like severe depression and anger.

Abusing steroids can also lead to serious side effects such as liver toxicity, high BP, shrinking of testicles, and heart-related complications which can lead to death.

What are the different types of Steroids?

The main steroids in body can be classified functionally as:

Sex Steroids:

  • Progestogens- E.g. Progesterone, which regulates menstrual cycle
  • Androgens- e.g. Testosterone, which is responsible for male sex characteristics
  • Estrogens- E.g. Estradiol, which is responsible for male sex characteristics

Corticosteroids:

These are important adrenal cortex steroids which regulate various metabolism functions. They are of two types:

  • Glucocorticoids- e.g. Cortisol which is responsible for immunosuppression
  • Mineralocorticoids- e.g. Aldosterone, which helps regulate blood pressure

Human Growth Hormone:

It is a peptide hormone which stimulates growth.

Steroids are also manufactured synthetically to mimic the steroids occurring naturally in our body. These are classified as:

Anabolic steroids:

Also known as Anabolic androgenic steroids, these are synthetic hormones which are similar to androgens, the male sex hormones in the body. There are many types of anabolic steroids, of which testosterone is the most powerful. These are to be taken only per medical advise and are available on prescriptions only.

Anabolic steroids are widely prescribed for treatment of male hypogonadism and in palliative treatment for severe weight loss associated with chronic diseases. They play a significant role in treating other conditions such as cachexia (wasting syndrome) associated with HIV/AIDS, severe burns, kidney and liver failure, and anemia associated with leukemia and kidney failure.

Cortisols:

These are also available as synthetic medication known as corticosteroids, which are prescribed for various medical conditions like treating inflammation in arthritic patients and infections, to treat autoimmune diseases like lupus and multiple sclerosis or to treat some kinds of cancer.

Steroid supplements:

These include supplements like DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) or androstenedione which are sold in health gyms or food stores. These are taken by athletes to improve performance as they exhibit effects like testosterone.

Human Growth hormone:

This is also known as Gonadotrophin. This hormone too is used illegally by athletes to increase muscle mass and performance. It is to be sold only under prescription.

Erythropoietin:

It is a type of hormone used to treat anemia in patients with severe kidney problems. It increases production of hemoglobin, resulting in improved supply of oxygen to body.

Stimulants:

Some athletes use stimulants like Amphetamines and Caffeine or street drugs like Cocaine. These reduce fatigue, suppress appetite and increase alertness.

Different Types of Steroids

Are Steroids illegal?

Steroids like anabolic steroids are illegal to possess, import or export and one cannot supply or sell them. The penalty could be imprisonment and / or a fine.

However, it is legal to possess them for personal use, under a prescription.

Steroid abuse in sports and body building profession is treated as illegal.

Some steroids like Dianabol are not legal in many countries and these are used illegally.

There are other classes of steroids known as corticosteroids which are similar to steroids produced by adrenal cortex in the body. These synthetic drugs are used to cure various ailments and are legal to use.

Corticosteroids are used to treat conditions like asthma, allergic rhinitis and hay fever (with symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes), urticaria (hives), eczema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), inflamed joints as in arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis.

How do steroids affect your health?

Steroids have both positive and negative or adverse effects on the body.

The positive effects of steroids last only as long as the steroids are consumed. Once stopped, the effects of steroids wane off.

One can expect the following benefits of consuming steroids:

  • increase in nitrogen retention, leading to muscle build
  • improved production of red cells, thus increasing stamina and energy level
  • anabolic steroids like testosterone increase sex drive, muscle growth and overall well being
  • improved skin tone when taking growth hormone

Steroid abuse can interfere with the natural biological process of producing hormones. This can lead to an adverse effect on hormonal balance in the body causing symptoms of hormonal imbalance.

The common short-term side effects of consuming steroids include:

  • Mood swings
  • Hallucination and delusions
  • Premature balding
  • Acne
  • Aggression
  • Skin thinning
  • High blood pressure
  • Injury to muscles and tendons
  • Heart and circulatory problems
  • Increased bad cholesterol levels
  • Fever and sweat
  • Liver damage or jaundice
  • Infertility
  • Breast enlargement
Short Term Side Effects of Steroids

The risks specific in females include:

  • developing masculine traits like deepening of voice
  • shrinking of breast
  • menstrual cycle changes
  • increased facial hair growth

The risks specific in males include:

  • pain when urinating
  • breast development
  • reduced sperm count and infertility
  • impotence
  • prostate gland enlargement
  • painful erections
  • testicle shrinkage

Some of the undesirable and permanent long-term side effects include:

  • impaired functioning of kidney, liver and heart
  • damage to ovaries or testicles
  • paranoia
  • mood swings or depression
  • confusion

Why do doctors prescribe steroids?

Corticosteroids are prescribed for various medical conditions, like treating immune disorders or inflammatory responses. However, these are strong medicines with many side effects, including weakened bones and cause for cataract. Hence, these should be prescribed for a minimal period of time.

What precautions must one take when on steroids?

Anabolic steroids should be taken only under medical supervision.

The anabolic steroids are addictive. Hence, one can get withdrawal symptoms if discontinued suddenly. When the healthcare provider prescribes steroid as a medicament, they advise reducing the dose gradually, to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

It is very important for parents or healthcare providers to update youngsters on the severe side effects of using steroids, because some of the effects could cause permanent damage to the body. They should be made aware of the consequences of using steroids.

Steroids which have to be administered using injections must be injected using new and sterile needles; the needles must never be shared.

Precautions to be Taken While Taking Steroids

References:

  1. Anabolic steroid misuse - (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/anabolic-steroid-misuse/)
  2. Mind Over Matter: Anabolic Steroids - (https://teens.drugabuse.gov/teachers/mind-over-matter/anabolic-steroids)
  3. Steroids - (https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/steroids)
  4. Steroids called: Corticosteroids, Glucocorticoids - (https://medlineplus.gov/steroids.html)
  5. What Are Steroids?- (https://www.Kidshealth.org/en/teens/steroids.html)

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